RE changes on the way
THERE will be a new Education Bill to replace the religious education provisions in the 1944 Act, despite denials from Mr Gordon Oakes, Minister of State for Education.
Mr Oakes has dismissed as "fiction" reports that Mrs Shirley Williams, Secretary of State for Education and Science, wants to replace "religious instruction" as defined in the Act, with religious education of a more general sort.
Mrs Williams was reported as saying that in a multi-racial society, religious instruction of a Christian type was out of date. Speaking last week to the Catholic Teachers' Federation, Mr Oakes said: "It's educational folly to deprive youngsters of that important part of their culture so that they know nothing about it.
But a spokesman for the Department of Education and Science has now confirmed the gist of the report that Mr Oakes has denied.
What Mrs Williams really meant, he said, was: "No change in the law was likely but that a new wording would probably help rather than hinder the cause of religion". But a new wording cannot be made without a change in the law.
Mr Norman St John-Stevas, the Shadow Minister of Education said: "I am totally opposed to any change in the law on religious education.
"Of all moments this is the worst to introduce such a plan. The discussion on the reinterpretation of the Act in new circumstances is just getting under way. We should wait and see what comes out of this discussion first."
It is clear that the Secretary of State does want to keep religious education as a comp u 1 so r y subject in the curriculum, and she regards "the study of Christianity as an essential element in understanding our history and the whole of modern European society."
But religious education, while clearly based on Christianity, "may recognise that in other places and at other times men have sought to understand God in a variety of ways."
Mr Harry Mellon, the President of the Catholic Teachers' Federation, said after a meeting with Mrs .Shirley Williams on Wednesday, that she fully supported the statement made by her Minister of State, Mr Gordon Oakes.
But Mr Oakes said only that there was "no question of removing religion from the school time-tables." He gave no firm commitment on whether the law would be changed. It remains to be seen how much reinterpretation the Act will stand before it has to be changed to bring it into line with current practice and the intentions of the Secretary of State.
Mr Mellon would oppose any change in the law. He said: "To change the law on this one point would be a waste of Parliamentary time."
She said that only two per cent of parents withdrew their children from religious education classes, but a report by the Assistant Masters' Association found that only 47 per cent of schools gave religious instruction once a week, and that a surprising number of Church schools did not comply with the
Act, Analysis page 6